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THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN POST-CONFLICT SIERRA LEONE

Over fifty years ago, Sierra Leone gained its independence from Great Britain following more than a century of colonial rule. With this independence came the hope of self-governance coupled with the potential economic opportunities created from its natural resources like timber, fish, minerals, and oil.

However, hope quickly turned to despair as the post-independence period saw 13 military coups and a civil war lasting 11 years that killed approximately 50,000 people, ravaged the economy, and shattered the very fabric of Sierra Leonean society.

As in most conflict situations, those who suffered the most because of the violence and chaos were women and girls. NNJ UNA EVENT TAKES A CLOSE LOOK AT WOMEN IN SIERRA LEONE

 On the evening of March 30, 2012, the Northern New Jersey Chapter of UNA-USA was pleased to have the opportunity to host an event at The John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University to celebrate International  Women’s Day.

 The members were very fortunate to have as its guest speaker Professor Fredline A. M’Cormack-Hale. The professor was extremely gracious in sharing her time, expertise, and insights on this topic with the chapter members. The presentation was well received by those in attendance and, most importantly, Dr. M’Cormack-Hale’s talk shed light on an area that has been largely ignored by the mainstream press. “WHY WOMEN?”

The Whitehead School Professor posed an important question at the outset: “Why women?”

 According to Dr. M’Cormack-Hale, “the exclusion of women in post-conflict situations contributes to economic, political, and social marginalization; inclusion of women in governance structures increases the likelihood of accountability and responsiveness.” The “inclusion of women,” as noted by the professor, is vitally important to a country’s well-being and existence. UNITED NATIONS REALIZED THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ROLE OF WOMEN

In October 2000, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1325 recognizing that women are excluded from peace processes. It also acknowledged that a woman’s role was crucial as it relates to conflict management, conflict resolution, and sustainable peace.

This resolution was historic insofar as it took into account the nature in which women and girls were victimized during conflicts such as Sierra Leone.

There are four pillars of Resolution 1325: participation, protection, prevention, and relief and recovery.

UNSCR 1325 and 1820 (2008) were important resolutions, but how were they to be implemented? IMPLEMENTATION OF SiLNAP

An important component or mechanism of the UNSCR was for a National Action Plan (NAP) to be developed. 

In September 2008, the Sierra Leone National Action Plan (SiLNAP) was drafted; and in September 2009, a final draft was adopted.

The SiLNAP had five priority pillars:

 (1)   Prevention of conflict and violence against women and children;  (2)   Protection, empowerment of vulnerable persons such as women and girls;  (3)   Prosecute, punish perpetrators in order to protect women and girls;  (4)   Participation and representation of women;  (5)   Promote coordination and monitoring of the National Action Plan (NAP).

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society played a critical role in leading to the adoption of SiLNAP, and in addition, these organizations have been vital in helping improve women’s lives through programs that address educational, health, and nutritional needs. LOOKING AHEAD TO NOVEMBER

Relative calm permeates the country of Sierra Leoneahead of the November elections, despite clashes that have taken place between the two rival political parties. There is great hope that Sierra Leone can become a stable democracy with a functioning economy, according to Executive Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the U.N. Integrated Peacebuilding Mission in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) Michael von der Schulenberg. The U.N. official, however, voiced concern recently indicating that the country “…must pass this crucial test…” and Sierra Leone cannot return to an era of civil war.

U.N. Women reported 186 women registered for the November 2012 elections for seats on Local Council and Parliamentary seats and one for vice presidency. Women have made progress in political participation; however, there is more work ahead.

Sierra  Leone should prioritize investments in women and girls as it is in their national interest to do so. Such investments provide economic opportunities for women and girls, which strengthens families, creates peace and stability, and promotes national security. In working with countries making post-conflict transitions like Sierra Leone, the global community should ensure that interventions are context-specific and relevant to the country’s needs.

Author’s  note: A special thank you to Dr. Fredline A. MCormack-Hale for her assistance in answering questions related to her presentation, and for “tweaking” some of the specifics contained in this posting.